Bristol Culture is an important part of the British Library’s exciting national project ‘Unlocking Our Sound Heritage’ (UOSH). This project, kindly supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, will save and make available to the public almost half a million rare and unique recordings that are threatened by physical degradation or stored on formats that can no longer be accessed.
To accomplish this huge task, ten sound preservation centres have been set up across the UK. Each centre will digitise and catalogue sound collections from their region. Bristol Archives is home to the centre for South West England, and a dedicated new team is set to preserve 5000 recordings from across our region.
But digitisation is just the first step. The team wants to share the recordings throughout the South West and are designing an engaging program of public events. You’ll be able hear wonderful sound treasures such as music performances from St Pauls Carnival, jingles from the Bristol Channel TV station, a wealth of oral history recordings from the British Empire & Commonwealth Collection, recorded performances from the University of Bristol Theatre Collection, even Cornish brass bands from Cornwall Record Office.
Professional consensus is that there are approximately 15 years left to digitise many sound collections before they become unreadable and are effectively lost for future generations, so digitising these recordings for the future now is crucial.
The video below shows an analogue audio tape the team tried to digitise recently. Audio tape has a clear plastic base which is coated in iron oxide; the oxide gives the tape its brown colour and is the medium that captures the audio. As the tape ages, the oxide starts to flake off the plastic, a condition known as ‘sticky shed syndrome’. The clear sections of the tape you can see in the video is audio lost forever.
Also the playback equipment for reels, cassettes, even minidiscs, is rapidly becoming scarce, and replacement parts scarcer still, along with the knowledge of how the repair and maintain the various formats. The UOSH hubs are equipped with the equipment and, crucially, the knowledge to digitise and preserve audio collections before it’s too late. UOSH is just the first step; we’ll preserve a huge number of recordings but there is much more work to be done.
How can I listen?
The UOSH team has a goal to contact copyright holders and get permission to make 10% of the material we are digitising available on the internet. The British Library is creating a new website for listeners to explore the wide selection of recordings – traditional, pop and world music, drama and literature readings, oral history, regional radio, wildlife sounds and more – collected and digitised by all the sound preservation network centres.
Also, all the collection holders we are working with (Bristol Archives and 14 other museums, archives, and institutions in South West England) will be able to make this cleared material available via their own websites and social media channels, and can choose to make all the preserved material available to visitors to their buildings, subject to permissions.
Finally, the UOSH team and volunteers will be sharing intriguing excerpts and behind the scenes gems on Bristol Archives and Bristol Culture’s website and social media channels – so tune in and hear more!
How can I help?
Getting more people aware of, loving, and caring for audio archives is a key driver for UOSH. The team is keen to involve local volunteers in their work. If you’d like to learn more, keep an eye on Bristol Archives’ Facebook, Twitter and website. There will be so much to explore, and we’d love you be involved!